Rukai language

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Native toTaiwan
RegionPingtung County
Kaohsiung County
Taitung County
Native speakers
10,500 (2002)[1]
  • Budai
  • Labuan
  • Maga
  • Mantauran
  • Tanan
  • Tona
Latin script (Rukai alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3dru
Formosan languages 2005.png
Distribution of the Rukai language (in pink) on the island of Taiwan
Lang Status 80-VU.svg
Rukai is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Rukai is a Formosan language spoken by the Rukai people in Taiwan. It is a member of the Austronesian language family. The Rukai language comprises six dialects, which are Budai, Labuan, Maga, Mantauran, Tanan and Tona. The number of speakers of the six Rukai dialects is estimated to be about 10,000. Some of them are monolingual. There are varying degrees of mutual intelligibility among the Rukai dialects. Rukai is notable for its distinct grammatical voice system among the Formosan languages.


Paul Jen-kuei Li considers Rukai to be the first language to have split from the Proto-Austronesian language. Below are the estimated divergence dates of various Formosan languages from Li (2008:215).[2]

  1. Proto-Austronesian: 4,500 BCE
  2. Rukai: 3,000 BCE
  3. Tsouic: 2,500 BCE (split into Tsou and Southern Tsouic around 1,000 BCE)
  4. Most other splits: 2,000 to 0 BCE
  5. Western Plains: 1,000 CE

Classifications by various scholars[who?] repeatedly find that Rukai is one of the, and often the, most divergent of the Austronesian languages. It is therefore prime evidence for reconstructing Proto-Austronesian.[clarification needed] Ross (2009) notes that to date, reconstructions had not taken Rukai into account, and therefore cannot be considered valid for the entire family.


Rukai is unique for being the only Formosan language without a focus system.[3]

Tanan Rukai is also the Formosan language with the largest consonant inventory, with 23 consonants and 4 vowels having length contrast.[4] Tanan Rukai also makes an animate/inanimate instead of a personal/non-personal one as most other Formosan languages do.

Mantauran is one of the most divergent dialects. Li (2001) classifies them as follows:[5]

  • Rukai
    • Mantauran (萬山 Wanshan, also 'oponoho): 250–300 speakers
    • (Main branch)
      • Maga–Tona
        • Maga (馬加 Majia)
        • Tona (多納 Duona)
      • Budai–Tanan (Rukai Proper)
        • Budai (霧台 Wutai)
        • Tanan (大南 Danan; also Taromak)

Geographic distribution[edit]

According to Zeitoun (2007:4), there are a total of 6 Rukai dialects spoken in 12 different villages.

Rukai Villages by Dialect
Dialect Autonym Village Township
Tanan Taromak Tunghsin 東興 Peinan Township, Taitung County
Labuan Laboa(n) Tawu 大武 Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Talamakao Chinye Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Budai Vedrai Wutai 霧臺 Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Kucapungan Haocha 好茶 Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Adiri Ali 阿禮 Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Kalramomodhesae Chiamu 佳暮 Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Kinulan Chulu 吉露 Wutai Township, Pingtung County
Maga Teldrɨka Maolin 茂林 Maolin Township, Kaohsiung County
Tona Kongadavane Tona 多納 Maolin Township, Kaohsiung County
Mantauran 'oponoho Wanshan 萬山 Maolin Township, Kaohsiung County

Together, Maga, Tona, and Mantauran are also known as the "Lower Three Villages." Rukai have also recently in Sandimen Township and southern Sanhe Village, Majia Township, where there are many Paiwan.[6] Sanhe Village is also where the Budai Rukai originally lived in before they relocated to Wutai Township in the mid-1900s.


Most Rukai dialects have four vowels and retroflex and interdental consonants.

Budai Rukai[6] has four vowels, /i ə a u/. /ə/ is not a schwa but a full vowel. Words ending phonemically in a consonant add an echo vowel, one of /i ə u/, which unlike morphophonemic vowels is often lost in derivation. /ə/ is used when the last vowel of the stem is /a/.

Budai Rukai consonants
Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɖ g
Affricate t͡s
Fricative voiceless θ s
voiced v ð
Trill r
Approximant w l ɭ j

Due to influence from Paiwan and Chinese, younger speakers sometimes pronounce /ð/ as [z], and in Tanan Rukai, younger speakers may merge /θ/ into /s/.

In Mantauran Rukai, the voiced stops have spirantized: *b to /v/, *d and *ɖ to /ð/, and *g to /h/.

The following table displays the consonant inventory of Mantauran Rukai, with written representations that differ from their IPA representations given in angle brackets (Zeitoun 2007):

Mantauran Rukai consonants
Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ ⟨ng⟩
Stop p t k ʔ ⟨’⟩
Affricate ts ⟨c⟩
Fricative v ð ⟨dh⟩ s h
Trill r
Approximant l ɭ ⟨lr⟩
  • 4 vowels, written a, i, e, o



Basic Mantauran Rukai syllables take on a basic (C)V structure, with words usually ranging from 2 to 4 syllables long (Zeitoun 2007). There are four morphological processes.

  1. Affixation
  2. Stem modification
  3. Reduplication
  4. Compounding

The following reduplication patterns occur in Budai Rukai (Austronesian Comparative Dictionary).

Reduplication of the noun stem
  • N + RED 'a great amount'
  • N(umeral or period) + RED 'lasting for a period of...'
Reduplication of the verb stem
  • V + RED 'continuous, keep doing, do repeatedly'
  • V + RED 'future'
  • V (stative) + RED 'intensity, comparatively greater'

In Budai Rukai, reduplication of a bound stem can also be used to create certain basic nouns and verbs, such as 'thunder,' 'mountain,' and 'to scrape' (Austronesian Comparative Dictionary).

Based on an analysis of the Budai (Kucapungan) dialect, Rukai is said to be unusual among Formosan languages for having a dichotomous active-passive voice system, (Chen & Sung, 2005)[7] which may include voices such agent, patient, locative, or instrumental focus. Stan Starosta considers this to be an indication that Rukai is the first offshoot of the Austronesian language family (Zeitoun, 2007). However, this dichotomy has been challenged (Chen, 2005).[8]

  • Active / Agent Focus (AF): prefix u-/w-
  • Passive / Patient Focus (PF): prefix ki-


Unlike most other Formosan languages, Rukai has an accusative case-marking system instead of an ergative one typical of Austronesian-aligned languages (Zeitoun 2007). There are two types of clauses in Mantauran Rukai:

  1. Nominal
  2. Verbal

Complementalization can take on four strategies (Zeitoun 2007).

  1. Zero strategy (i.e. paratactic complements)
  2. Verb serialization
  3. Nominalization
  4. Causativization

Definite objects can be topicalized in both active and passive sentences.

Function words[edit]

Below are some Mantauran Rukai function words from Zeitoun (2007).

  • la – and
  • mani – then

Word classes[edit]

Zeitoun (2007) distinguishes eleven word classes in Mantauran Rukai:.

  1. Nouns
  2. Verbs
  3. Pronouns
  4. Demonstratives
  5. Numerals
  6. Adverbs
  7. Phrasal elements
  8. Clausal elements
  9. Interclausal elements
  10. Exclamations
  11. Interjections


Below are some Mantauran Rukai verb affixes from Zeitoun (2007).

  • Dynamic verbs: o-; very rarely om- and m-
  • Stative verbs: ma-
  • Negating prefix: ki-
  • Causative: pa-
  • ʔini-Ca- "(one)self"
  • mati- "well"
  • k-in-a ... aə "... more"
  • ʔako- "barely, just"
  • ka- "in fact"
  • mata ... aə "certainly"


Below are Rukai pronouns from Zeitoun (1997).[9] Note that Mantauran Rukai pronouns are usually bound.

Mantauran Rukai Personal Pronouns
Type of Pronoun Topic Nominative Oblique Genitive
1st person singular iɭaə -ɭao, nao- -i-a-ə -li
plural exclusive inamə -nai -i-nam-ə -nai
inclusive imitə, ita -mita, -ta -i-mit-ə -ta
2nd person singular imiaʔə -moʔo i-miaʔ-ə -ʔo
plural inomə -nomi -i-nom-ə -nomi
3rd person visible singular ana -i-n-ə -(n)i
plural ana-lo -i-l-i-n-ə -l-i-ni
not visible singular ðona -i-ð-ə -ða
plural ðona-lo -i-l-i-ð-ə -l-i-ða
Budai Rukai Personal Pronouns
Type of Pronoun Topic Nominative Oblique Genitive
1st person singular kunaku -(n)aku, naw- nakuanə -li
plural exclusive kunai -nai naianə -nai
inclusive kuta -ta mitaanə -ta
2nd person singular kusu -su musuanə -su
plural kunumi -numi, -nu numianə -numi
3rd person visible singular kuini inianə -ini
plural kuini inianə -ini
not visible singular kuiɖa
plural kuiɖa
Maga Rukai Personal Pronouns
Type of Pronoun Topic Nominative Oblique Genitive
1st person singular i kɨkɨ ku-, kɨkɨ ŋkua -li
plural exclusive i knamɨ namɨ-, knamɨ nmaa -namɨ
inclusive i miti ta-, miti mitia -ta
2nd person singular i musu su-, musu sua -su
plural i mumu mu-, mumu mua -mu
3rd person visible singular i kini kini nia -ini
plural i kini kini nia -ini
not visible singular i kiɖi kiɖi ɖia -ɖa
plural i kiɖi kiɖi ɖia -ɖa


Budai Rukai[edit]

The list of Budai Rukai affixes below is sourced from Chen (2006:199-203).[6]


  • a- 'become'
  • ana- 'if'
  • api- 'like', 'want'
  • i- 'at', 'in'
  • ki- 'to gather', 'to collect'
  • ki- 'Dative Focus'
  • ki- 'to dig
  • ku- 'to remove'
  • ku- 'Free Pronoun marker'
  • ku- 'Past marker'
  • la- 'Plural'
  • lu- 'Future'
  • ma- 'Stative Verb'
  • ma- 'reciprocal'
  • ma- 'dual (two people)'
  • mu- 'to remove'
  • mu- 'self-motion'
  • muasaka- 'ordinal'
  • nai- 'have done'
  • ŋi- 'to move in certain direction'
  • ŋi- '-self'
  • ŋu- 'to ride'
  • pa- 'causative'
  • paŋu- 'by'
  • sa- 'body parts'
  • sa- 'when'
  • si- 'verbal prefix'
  • si- 'to wear'
  • sini- 'from'
  • su- 'to clean'
  • su- 'belong'
  • ta- 'to feel'
  • taru- 'certain'
  • tu- 'to mark'
  • tua- 'to wash'
  • θi- 'to release'
  • u-/w- 'Agent Focus'


  • -a 'imperative'
  • -a 'Accusative Case'
  • -ana 'still', 'yet'
  • -anə 'nominalize'
  • -ŋa 'completive'
  • -ŋa 'close to'


  • ⟨a⟩ 'past tense; non-future'
  • ⟨a⟩ 'realis'
  • ⟨in⟩ 'Goal subject', 'Past time'


  • a⟩...⟨anə 'future state'
  • a⟩...⟨anə 'nominalizer'
  • ka⟩...⟨anə 'real or genuine'
  • kala⟩...⟨anə 'season'
  • sa⟩...⟨anə 'instrument'
  • sanu⟩...⟨anə 'left-over'
  • sanu⟩...⟨lə 'frequency'
  • ta⟩...⟨anə 'time', 'location'

Compound (Multiple) Affixes

  • la-ma- 'plural marker'
  • ɭi-tara- 'have to', must'
  • sa-ka- 'household'
  • sa-ka-u⟩...⟨anə ; the whole'
  • sa-ka-si-... l-anə the ... generation
  • ta-ra- for a period of time
  • ta-ra- be good at
  • t-in-u⟩...⟨anə personal relation

Mantauran Rukai[edit]

The following list of Mantauran Rukai affixes is sourced from Zeitoun (2007).

  • a- 'when'
  • a- (action/state nominalization)
  • a- 'plural'
  • -a 'beyond (in time or space)'
  • -a 'irrealis'
  • -a 'imperative'
  • -ae (state nominalization)
  • a⟩...⟨ae; allomorph: ... -ae (objective nominalization; negative imperative)
  • amo- 'will'
  • -ane (meaning unknown; used on verbs to insult someone)
  • -a-nga 'imperative' (mild requests)
  • apaa- 'reciprocal causative' (dynamic verbs)
  • apano- 'like to, prone to, have a tendency to'
  • apa'a 'reciprocal causative' (stative verbs)
  • apa'ohi- 'split (causative form)'
  • -ci 'snivel'
  • dh- 'invisible'
  • i- 'at'
  • -i 'irrealis'
  • -i⟩...⟨e (marking of the oblique case on personal and impersonal pronouns)
  • -ka 'predicative negation'
  • ka- 'in fact, indeed, actually'
  • ka⟩...⟨ae 'genuine, real, original'
  • kala⟩...⟨ae 'temporal nominalization'
  • kapa ~ kama- 'continuously'
  • kapa ...-nga 'all, every'
  • ki- 'modal negation'
  • ki⟩...⟨ae 'whose'
  • k⟨in⟩a⟩...⟨ae 'more and more'
  • la- 'plural'
  • la-ma'a- 'reciprocal'
  • -lo 'plural' (demonstrative pronouns)
  • m- (dynamic (finite and subjunctive) verbs; alternates with k-, p-, or Ø in its non-finite form)
  • ma- (stative (finite and subjunctive) verbs; alternates with ka- in its non-finite form)
  • ma⟩...⟨le (forms 'tens')
  • ma-Ca- 'reciprocity' (dynamic (finite and subjunctive) verbs; alternates with pa-Ca; Ca refers to the reduplication of the first consonant)
  • maa- 'reciprocity' (dynamic (finite and subjunctive) verbs; alternates with paa)
  • maa⟩...⟨e (~ paa⟩...⟨e; maa- (dual reciprocal) + -e (meaning unknown))
  • maaraka- 'each/both'
  • maatali⟩...⟨le/lo '(a number of) floors'
  • maka- 'finish'
  • maka⟩...⟨le/lo (~ paka⟩...⟨le/lo) 'up to N-/for N- days/months/years'
  • maka'an- (attaches only to aleve 'below' and lrahalre 'above')
  • makini⟩...⟨(a)e (~ pakini⟩...⟨(a)e) 'all'
  • Mali- (~ pali) 'along'
  • ma'ohi (~ pa'ohi) 'split'
  • m-o- (~ o-) 'holds X's ritual (where X = household name)' (attaches to household names to form dynamic verbs)
  • m-o- (~ o-) 'toward'
  • mo- 'anti-causative'
  • m-ore (~ ore-) 'perform'
  • mota'a- (~ ota'a-) 'raise'
  • n- 'visible'
  • -na 'still'
  • naa- 'continuously'
  • -nae 'place where'
  • -nae 'time when'
  • -nga 'already'
  • -nga 'superlative'
  • ni- 'counterfactuality (irrealis)'
  • ni⟩...⟨a 'concessive'
  • o- 'dynamic / finite / realis / active'
  • o⟩...⟨e 'dress well' (derives verbs from nouns)
  • o-ara- 'only' (attached to verbs)
  • o-ka'a⟩...⟨le/lo (~ ko'a⟩...⟨le/lo) 'a number of recipients'
  • om- (~ m- / ~ Ø) 'dynamic / finite / realis / active'
  • o-tali (~ tali- / ~ toli) 'wrap up, pack up'
  • o-tali (~ tali-) 'made of'
  • o-tara- (~ tara-) 'a number of months / years'
  • taro- (doublet form: tao-) 'group of persons in movement'
  • o-ta'i- (~ ta'i-) 'precede'
  • o-'ara- (~ 'ara-) 'early'
  • pa- 'causative'
  • pa- 'every N-times'
  • paori 'stick to, think about'
  • pa'a⟩...⟨ae '(what is) left'
  • pe- 'forbiddance (?)'
  • pi- 'local causative'
  • po- 'causative of movement'
  • po- 'bear, grow N' (attaches to nouns)
  • saka- 'external'
  • samori- 'keep on ...-ing' (attaches only to the root kane 'to eat')
  • sa'api- 'prone to, inclined to'
  • so- 'tribute'
  • ta- (subjective nominalization)
  • ta- 'inalienability' (kinship and color terms)
  • ta⟩...⟨(a)e 'place where'
  • ta⟩...⟨ae 'time when'
  • ta⟩...⟨n-ae (forms derived locative nominal)
  • taka- 'a number of persons'
  • tako- 'while'
  • tala- 'container' (?; found only with the root ove'eke)
  • tali- 'belong to'
  • ta'a- 'with (a group of persons)'
  • ta'a⟩...⟨le/lo 'measure with an extended arm' (bound numerals)
  • to- 'do, make, produce, build'
  • toka⟩...⟨(a)e 'use ... for, by ...-ing'
  • to'a- 'use ... to, for'
  • 'a- 'instrument/manner nominalizer'
  • 'a⟩...⟨e 'have a lot of'
  • 'aa- 'turn into'
  • 'aka- 'Nth' (ordinal prefix 'a- + stative marker ka- (non-finite form))
  • 'ako- (doublet form: 'ako⟩...⟨ae) 'speak (out)'
  • 'ako- 'barely, a little'
  • 'ako⟩...⟨le 'say a number of times'
  • 'ako⟩...⟨nga 'more'
  • 'ali- 'from (in time or space)' (< 'aliki '(come) from')
  • 'ano- 'walk, ride, take'
  • 'ano- 'unknown meaning' (only attaches to stative roots)
  • 'ano-Ca- 'along/with a number of persons (in movement)' (attaches to bound numeral forms and certain other roots)
  • 'ano⟩...⟨ae 'entirely, completely, cease, alleviate'
  • 'ao⟩...⟨le/lo 'the Nth time' (ordinal prefix 'a- + 'o⟩...⟨le/lo 'a number of times')
  • 'apaka⟩...⟨le/lo 'the Nth day' (ordinal prefix 'a- + paka⟩...⟨le/lo 'up to/for a number of days / months / years)
  • 'api- 'like ... -ing'
  • 'a-po- 'as a result of'
  • 'apo- 'come out'
  • 'asa⟩...⟨ae 'what's the use of'
  • 'asi- (meaning unknown; found only once in the word 'work')
  • 'i- 'passive'
  • 'i- 'verbalizer' (from nouns; polysemous prefix). Semantic core of 'i-N is 'get, obtain-N', although it can also be glossed as 'get, harvest, gather, look after, bear, have for, kill, etc.'
  • 'i- 'put on, wear' (derives verbs from nouns)
  • 'ia-... ae 'because of, out of'
  • 'ini- 'movement toward'
  • 'ini- 'cross'
  • 'ini- 'consume'
  • 'ini-Ca- '(one)self' (reflexive)
  • 'ini⟩...⟨ae 'pretend'
  • 'ini⟩...⟨(-ae) 'behave like, look like' (derived from 'inilrao 'resemble')
  • 'ira- 'for' (derived from 'iraki '(do) for')
  • 'o- 'take off'
  • 'o⟩...⟨le/lo 'a number of times' (attaches to bound numerals)
  • 'o⟩...⟨le/lo 'measure' (must be followed by certain words to indicate a measure with the hand, foot, ruler, etc.)
  • 'o-tali 'unpack'

The following list of Budai Rukai affixes is sourced from the Comparative Austronesian Dictionary (1995).

Nominal affixes
  • ka⟩...⟨anə + N 'something real or genuine
  • ko- + Pronoun 'nominative'
  • moasaka- + N (numeral) 'ordinal'
  • sa-... anə + V 'instrument, tool'
  • sa- + N 'some body parts'
  • ta⟩...⟨anə + N 'location, time'
  • ta-ra + N 'agentive, a person specialised in...'
Verbal affixes
  • -a- + V 'realis'
  • -a + V 'imperative'
  • ki- + N 'to gather, to collect, to harvest'
  • ki- + V 'dative-focus, involuntary action'
  • ko- + N 'to remove, to peel'
  • ko- + V 'intransitive, patient-focus'
  • ma- + V 'mutual, reciprocal'
  • maa- + V 'stative'
  • mo- + N 'to discharge, remove'
  • mo- + V '(to go) self-motion, non-causative'
  • ŋi- + V 'to act or to move in a certain direction or manner'
  • ŋo- + N 'to ride'
  • pa- + V 'causative'
  • si- + V (bound stem) 'verbal prefix'
  • si- + N 'to wear, to carry, to possess'
  • so- + N 'to spit, to clean, to give out'
  • to- + N 'to make, produce, bring forth'
  • θi + N 'to release'
  • w- + V 'agent-focus, verbal prefix'


  1. ^ Rukai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Li, Paul Jen-kuei (2008). "Time perspective of Formosan Aborigines". In Sanchez-Mazas, Alicia (ed.). Past Human Migrations in East Asia: Matching Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics. Taylor & Francis.
  3. ^ Li, Paul (2006). The internal relationships of Formosan languages. Tenth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, 17-20 January 2006, Palawan, Philippines.
  4. ^ Blust, Robert A. (2009). The Austronesian Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-85883-602-0.
  5. ^ Li, Paul Jen-kuei (2001). "The dispersal of the Formosan aborigines in Taiwan" (PDF). Language and Linguistics. 2 (1): 271–278. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-08-08. Retrieved 2021-05-10.
  6. ^ a b c Chen, Chun-mei (2006). A Comparative Study on Formosan Phonology: Paiwan and Budai Rukai (PDF) (Ph.D. thesis). The University of Texas at Austin. hdl:2152/3758.
  7. ^ Chen, Cheng-Fu; Sung, Li-May (2005). "Interrogatives as polarity items in Kucapungan Rukai" (PDF). Concentric. 31 (1): 95–117.
  8. ^ Chen, Cheng-Fu (2005). Heinz, Jeffrey; Ntelitheos, Dimitris (eds.). Object voice and nominalization in Rukai (PDF). Annual Conference of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association. Los Angeles. pp. 35–47.
  9. ^ Zeitoun, Elizabeth (1997). "The pronominal system of Mantauran (Rukai)". Oceanic Linguistics. 36 (2): 312–346. doi:10.2307/3622988. JSTOR 3622988.


External links[edit]